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Dan Mahowny was a rising star at the Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce. At twenty-four he was assistant manager of a major branch in the heart of Toronto's financial district. To his colleagues he was a workaholic. To his customers, he was astute, decisive and helpful. To his friends, he was a quiet, but humorous man who enjoyed watching sports on television. To his girlfriend, he was shy but engaging. None of them knew the other side of Dan Mahowny--the side that executed the largest single-handed bank fraud in Canadian history, grossing over $10 million in eighteen months to feed his gambling obsession. Written by
Sujit R. Varma
"Owning Mahowny" shown recently on cable came as a total surprise. This is a film to watch because of the amazing performance of Phillip Seymour Hoffman. Under the direction of Richard Kwietniowski, and based on a real incident that occurred in Toronto in the 80s, this film speaks clearly about an addiction and what it does to a man who is in complete denial about his problem.
Dan Mahowny is not exactly what one would expect from a bank executive. He appears unkempt and to a certain degree dirty, so that alone, would have made any bank manager pass him over, in favor of a pretty boy who would have looked the part. Obviously, the real Dan was a man that knew his banking business and it was on that basis that he was appointed to the executive post.
It appears clearly that Dan is in trouble. The reptilian Frank Perlin comes to him at the beginning of the film to demand what Dan owes him. The only problem is that Dan doesn't have the money. Dan's solution is to "borrow" funds from the bank to cover his debts. This is the beginning of Dan's descent into hell. His gambling addiction will make him steal more and more. As a gambler, Dan plays without any plan. It appears, like with other gamblers, Mahowny is superstitious, as we see when his friend goes to his table to put a curse, in this sick man's mind, and he will lose everything. The next occasion is when he breaks the bank in Atlantic City. Instead of listening to his friend, who tells him to walk away, he gambles it all and ends up with nothing.
Dan, like other gamblers, is only concerned with gambling in any shape, or form. Mahowny couldn't care less for the mousy Belinda, the woman who loves him and who confronts him about his gambling addiction. Belinda even offers to give him all her savings to repay his debts, which at the time, have reached astronomic proportions. Belinda's love makes her stand by her man, no matter how bad things are. There's a ray of hope at the end as one sees Dan and Belinda standing next to the fall in Niagara.
This is a film that offers a magnificent nuanced performance from Mr. Hoffman. This actor has the ability to get into the skin of all his characters. Aside from being an accomplished actor, he always projects the angst and the turmoil that is going inside Dan. There is not a false moment in Mr. Hoffman's portrayal of Dan. Having seen him on stage, one can only wonder what can't this man do.
Minnie Driver, as Belinda is perfect as the girl who thinks Dan is the only man for her. Instead of abandoning him once she realizes his problem, she stays until the end. One hopes things did work out for them, because this is a woman who clearly deserve some happiness.
The other great performance is by John Hurt. He plays the Atlantic City casino manager that knows what makes Dan tick. Victor Fox realizes what goes on in the gambler's psyche. Ultimately, he knows Dan will lose everything because he plays without any plan at all. Maury Chaykin has some good moments playing Frank Perlin.
The scenes of the casino, which probably were filmed in either a studio, or one of the smaller places, have a seedy look. We don't get wowed by all the opulence one encounters in the big places of Las Vegas, or Atlantic City.
Director Kwietniowski, concentrates in keeping his camera on Dan's face as we watch the gambler in action. Ultimately the film belongs to Phillip Seymour Hoffman for his honest and accomplished take on a man who gambled his future away.
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